Four ropes were tested in this category of skinny ropes, characterized by their size, with a diameter between 8.9 and 9.1 mm. These ropes are prime for climbs when every ounce counts and are popular for long days in the mountains, alpine objectives, multi-pitch rock climbs and hard redpoints while sport climbing. All of the ropes were used at least 25 days in the field in a wide range of environments including desert sandstone traditional climbing, summer sport climbing and ice climbing. While going through the hands of many testers outside, the ropes were also subjected to in-house testing on an isolated section of rope to compare before and after use. Each rope was evaluated on five categories: handling, resistance to dirt, durability, features and versatility.
The Metolius Monster is a durable, versatile and well handling dynamic 8.9 mm climbing rope that is certified as a single, twin or half rope. The Monster comes with Complete Shield dry treatment of the sheath and core that was effective at repelling moisture during days of ice and alpine climbing. The Monster Mark, a bright orange thread to aid in finding the halfway point, was popular with testers while being effective and durable.
The Trango Catalyst is a skinny rope (9.0 mm) with the durability and abrasion resistance found in a thicker workhorse rope. This rope handled excellently and the extra security from the Unicore technology impressed testers.
The Maxim Airliner is a 9.1 mm dynamic climbing rope that is dual certified for use as a single and half rope. With an effective Endura Dry double dry treatment, the Airliner was resistant to dirt and provided great durability for a skinny rope, making it a fine option for ice and trad climbing. Stiff handling and kinking during use were the biggest drawbacks of the Airliner, making it less appealing for sport and multi-pitch use.
The Sterling Fusion Nano is a 9 mm dynamic climbing rope that is triple certified for use as a single, half, and twin rope. The smooth and supple handling of the Nano made it popular with sport climbers looking for an easy handling rope. The effective dry treatment makes it appeal to both ice and alpine climbers. Poor durability, easy dirt accumulation, and a middle mark which wore off fast were inconvenient factors of this rope.
Handling is often the first thing climbers notice in a rope and it was also the topic discussed most regularly by testers. Hand is the technical term used in the industry but we’ve opted for the more everyday term used by climbers at the crag, handling. A rope with good handling should be easy to tie knots in and those knots should hold securely. Ropes popular with testers fed through a variety of belay devices with ease made clipping quick and were smooth in their general handling. The soft, supple handling of the Metolius Monster held up over the long haul and drew the highest score for handling but was followed closely by the Sterling Fusion Nano, which was popular with many testers but lost some of its easy handling as the rope received wear.
Resistance to Dirt
Having a rope that holds up well to dirt gives a rope long-term appeal, both out of its function by making it easier to spot a middle mark and in the visual attractiveness of having a rope that doesn’t look ancient and haggard when pulled out of a pack. The Complete Shield dry treatment of the Metolius Monster helped the rope win this category but the Maxim Airliner was a close second. Sections of new rope were saved to be used as a comparison as each rope was put to tough field use and testers all remarked about a rope’s cleanliness or lack thereof.
All climbers appreciate a rope that will hold up to the demands placed upon it and we’ve probably all heard about a rope that was “shredded” after a few days of use on the rock. While real field testing is valuable for determining a rope’s durability, we also used in-house testing on isolated sections of new rope to determine how ropes fared. The Maxim Airliner and Metolius Monster tied for the most durable skinny ropes. While both received their share of damage during testing, they fared much better than the softer handling Sterling Fusion Nano and just edged out the relatively durable BlueWater Icon.
If all ropes were made the same then there wouldn’t be much to review. Instead, each rope has its own features that are often highly touted by companies and in the case of skinny ropes, this was certainly the case. Testers rated the BlueWater Icon’s features the highest due to the many color options offered, the easy to find bicolor pattern scheme and the effective dry treatment. The Metolius Monster came in a close second with a similarly effective dry treatment and testers loved the Monster Mark middle mark, a highly visible and durable piece of thread that made finding the middle easy, even after high wear or in low light.
The versatility of a rope to be able to perform well in a wide range of climbing styles can give a rope great appeal to be less of a one-dimensional rope and closer to a quiver of one rope. The Metolius Monster took the prize for most versatile skinny rope owing to its great handling and durability, effective dry treatment and popular middle mark. The BlueWater Icon and Maxim Airliner tied for a close second, both of which were popular for their durability and dry treatments, with the biggest drawback of each being their relatively stiff handling and the kinking which testers experienced during use.
Our test results came after dozens of days of field testing on desert towers, limestone sport climbs, long alpine routes, and freezing through cold belay sessions while ice climbing plus hours in the garage handling ropes, tying knots and repeatedly hauling a heavy bag to test the durability of each. The Metolius Monster came out on top but was followed close behind by the BlueWater Icon and Maxim Airliner. No rope tested is a bad rope, as the Sterling Fusion Nano is a quality rope, popular with sport climbers due to its easy handling. And in the end, every rope had its fans, and while the Metolius Monster was perhaps the most versatile rope, the Icon and Airliner are well-suited to a variety of climbing pursuits. Climbers should be aware of the limitations of skinny ropes, as evidenced by the otherwise durable Monster getting seriously damaged while being fixed and ascended repeatedly on a desert tower. However, the skinny ropes tested have come a long way from the lightweight cords of the past which weren’t seen as being durable enough for day-to-day climbing. By comparison, these modern skinny ropes can take a beating and can save some weight in your pack while on a long alpine route or in your hand when making clips on a difficult sport climb.
For testing, we put these ropes through the wringer, subjecting them to dozens of days of sport, trad, and ice climbing on a variety of rock types, including granite, sandstone, and limestone. Our before and after pictures show how the rope held up to dirt with a section of new rope compared next to the well-traveled rope. Numerous climbers of varying experience plus guides, clients, and students gave feedback on characteristics like handling. We’ve used the term “handling” instead of the more appropriate term “hand” because I don’t think I’ve ever heard hand used at the crag.
We also took that new section of rope and put it through some in-house testing to judge the rope’s durability. With a haul bag weighing 55 pounds, each section of rope was run repeatedly over a rough edge as an abrasion test and then moved side to side along a sharp edge. That new section of rope was also used to compare the rope’s condition in terms of durability and resistance to dirt after extended use.
Additionally, each rope was rated on features included in its manufacturing and the rope’s ability to be effectively used across a wide platform of uses to give the rope a versatility rating. Most ropes today feature middle marks and testers rated each rope for the presence of a middle mark and its visibility, both new and over time as the rope picked up dirt and wear and tear. Ropes could receive higher marks for having a variety of colors or length options or if it came in a bicolor pattern option and how effective that bicolor pattern scheme was. A rope’s dry treatment and how well it worked was judged and was another key component of a rope’s features rating. Testers also rated a rope’s ability or preference to be used in a variety of climbing styles.
What is a Skinny Rope?
Climbing ropes have gotten skinnier and skinnier over time. Twenty years ago, most single ropes were somewhere in the vicinity of 10 mm and ropes around 9 mm were rated for use as twin or half ropes. In years since manufacturers have aimed to shed weight and bulk and make single ropes smaller while still being able to pass the UIAA standard. Hence, today there are ropes as small as 8.5 mm that are certified as single climbing ropes. In our testing, we had four ropes between 8.9 mm and 9.1 mm while some manufacturers, such as Black Diamond, have their skinniest rope at 9.2 mm.
Traditionally, skinny ropes have been popular in alpine climbing as a way to shed some weight for those long approaches when your pack may also be filled with overnight gear and food for multiple days. If you go from a 66 gram/meter 10.2 mm rope to a 52 gram/meter 9 mm rope, that rope saves you 840 grams or almost two pounds for a 60-meter rope. That’s less weight in your pack and less wear and tear on your body while hiking those long miles to your alpine climbing objective. Plus, those two pounds of weight savings is added to the weight savings climbers are finding in their harnesses, cams, carabiners and even their chalk bags, as shedding ounces off gear has been a trend all across the industry.
One of the chief reasons companies have been able to make skinnier ropes while still being able to pass the UIAA tests is they’ve taken material out of the sheath. Hence, many of today’s skinny ropes are really popular with climbers and our testers for their smooth, easy handling and their supple feel that takes knots with ease, feeds smoothly through a belay device and in general and feels easy to handle. As a result, you see many climbers tying into them while sport climbing, more often for hard redpoint efforts but also for project climbing where more wear and tear is going to be placed on the rope. One of the ill results of the smaller sheaths is that the durability can be reduced and ropes can more easily be damaged when running over sharp edges.
At one point in time, skinny double rope systems were popular with many ice climbers. Today, that system is less popular although still used by some on long routes with multiple rappels. Instead, most ice climbers are seeking out dry treated skinny ropes where durability is less of a concern and the handling and effectiveness of the dry treatment are more pressing. Evidence of that is all of the skinny ropes tested automatically come with or are available in a dry treatment, some of which are touted as being more effective dry treatments and include treatments of both the core and the sheath. Mammut’s Infinity 9.5 mm rope was the first rope advertised a being able to pass the new UIAA dry rope test, by which a rope cannot absorb water more than 5% of the rope’s weight.
The skinny ropes on the market today share many traits but also differ in the features they offer and the styles of climbing where they work best. The Metolius Monster was the most well rounded of the bunch and well-liked by testers in a variety of climbing venues. The Sterling Fusion Nano’s easy handling made it most popular for hard sport climbs or ice climbing. The stiffer handling and good durability of the Maxim Airliner and BlueWater Icon made them most popular for single pitch climbing, on both rock and ice.These skinny ropes can come with a heavy price tag, with three of the four ropes tested costing $266 to $341 for a 70-meter dry version. The sole outlier is the BlueWater Icon, which can be had at a bargain for $196 for a 70 meter Double Dry version. In the future, expect to see more skinny ropes on the market that try to appeal to a wide range of climbers.